You may be familiar with accessing books, archive collections, or microfilms at the British Library, but it can be daunting to look for and order play manuscripts if you haven't done so previously.
The staff in the Manuscripts reading room are really helpful, but I thought a users guide for any first-time researchers wanting to look in the Lord Chamberlain's Plays Collection might be useful so that you know what to expect and ask for. So here we go:
In April 2022 I was in the University of Bristol Theatre Collection researching the London cabaret scene of the early to mid twentieth century when I saw this face peeking out at me from an open folder of programmes and cuttings. I was immediately intrigued! The full picture was, I assumed, a publicity shot for a cabaret act, a play, or perhaps even a film.
More archive fun!
All images by Jacky Fleming
I'm collaborating with Scary Little Girls for the fourth season of their Salon de la Vie project - on everything you didn’t know about the suffragettes and their creative campaigning! We’ll combine recorded extracts, songs, special guests and live shows in this season to celebrate the wild, wonderful, wise and witty women of the first wave.
Join us for…
June 2nd, Votes for Children!
A look at the young people who supported the suffrage movement and found their own voice in the process.
June 16th, Birds of a Feather.
We will hear about plans to fill Parliament with suffragette parrots, talk about how the movement campaigned not just for votes for women but to end vivisection, and explore the links between vegetarianism and suffrage.
June 30th, Nobody Expects the Suffragettes!
Site specific, pop up and random acts of activism all characterised the creative shenanigans of suffragists in the theatre and entertainment industries, and in this Salon we celebrate some of the most unexpected!
July 14th, The Woman’s Theatre.
Here we will look at the way suffrage campaigners imagined a theatre they could be part of, including female producers and playwrights, crèches, and an end to the casting couch… so much to admire and yet to apply to the modern mainstream…
July 28th, Taking the Stage!
Our all live season finale bringing the work of Elizabeth Robins, Evelyn Glover and Cicely Hamilton to life before your very eyes! Expect digital mayhem, songs, short scenes and feminist fun for all! Tickets for this £5, the only Salon of the season we’re charging for and we are super grateful for your support!
About Salon de la Vie
Now coming up to its fourth season, Salon de la Vie is our fortnightly series of 15 – 20 minute extravaganzas of songs, storytelling, merriment and conversation. Focusing each time on an awe-inspiring, remarkable and brave human from the world of film, music, literature and history, and drawing parallels with the achievements of activists today, we celebrate how people positively embody the change they want to see in the world, for themselves and for others.
Reading Twenty - 23rd February 2021
Act Three of Woman on Her Own by Eugene Brieux, translated by Charlotte Shaw (1913).
Readers: Sarah Annakin, Lucy Stevens, Mufrida Hayes, Sarah McCourt, John Fleming, Michelle Claire, Maggie Saunders, Annie Walker, Kathryn Martin, Jemma Churchill, Stephanie Fayerman.
Reading Twenty-One - 22nd March 2021
Lady Geraldine's Speech by Beatrice Harraden (1909),
Her Vote by H.V. Esmond (1909)
A Suffrage Rummage Sale - An Auction Interrupted by Mary Winsor (1913).
Readers: Sarah Annakin, Velma Von Bon Bon, Stephanie Ware, Maroussia Richardson, Lucy Stevens, Juliette Burton, John Fleming, Michelle Claire, Jemma Churchill, Philippa Ritchie, Nick Dutton, Maggie Saunders, Catherine Harvey Green, Jamie Newall.
Part of the joy of research is finding surprises in archives, newspapers, autobiographies and ephemera.
Often these stories don't fit the narrative of whatever writing task is at hand at that moment and so get forgotten, but since 2017 I've been thrilled to give many of them a wider audience on BBC Radio 3's Time Traveller series - broadcast every morning just after 10am as part of the live Essential Classics programme on Radio 3 and then subsequently collated into themes for the Time Traveller podcast. Through this series I've been able to tell over twenty stories from the past about magic, art, sport, theatre, music, dance, and of course the suffrage campaign.
In the first few months of 2012 I worked as a dresser on South Downs/The Browning Version at the Comedy Theatre in London. I was in the second year of my PhD, and also putting together the manuscript of The Methuen Drama Book of Suffrage Plays. Working in wardrobe on West End shows is intense - you're in eight shows a week and often also more for laundry calls, understudy runs, and maintenance sessions. It's also great fun - I've worked in wardrobe on nearly 30 West End shows since 1998 and been fortunate to work with and for some incredibly lovely and talented people on stage and off.
It was on that show that the idea of a suffrage themed 'top trumps' style game first came to me. I thought it would be a great way to introduce some of the amazing campaigners I was finding in my research - and talking about constantly! - to new audiences in an accessible and fun way.
My friend Greg who was then the deputy head of the wardrobe dept and is now a tailor was super encouraging of the idea and I mocked up a set to see if it would work. It did. Since that day I've been going on and on about this idea, keen to make it happen but not knowing how to do so.
But finally - in 2018 it has! It was totally worth the wait. Suffra-Greats! is a reality.
My second edited collection with Methuen Drama is being published on the 2nd July! It contains twelve pieces in all - a wide variety of material written by female and male suffragist writers between 1908-1914.
Spanning different styles and genres, the pieces explore many issues that interested feminist and suffragist campaigners such as the value of women's work, domestic and economic inequality, visibility in public space, direct action and its consequences, sexual double standards, and the influence of the media on public opinion. This collection builds on my first volume of plays, published in 2013. If you get both you will have an impressive collection of playable, accessible and fascinating plays that speak to us directly about how the suffrage movement represented itself on the stage and through the medium of performance.
Here's a little bit about each of the plays to whet your appetites!
It's been a couple of months now since my job at Parliament finished - and I've been meaning to write about some of the creative outputs of my time as part of the Vote 100 team. I was part of an AHRC funded project called 'What Difference Did the War Make? World War One and Votes for Women' run by the University of Lincoln and UK Parliament Vote 100 alongside the University of Plymouth. The project outputs included three panel events in Lincoln, Plymouth and London discussing not only the project topic but the work and legacy of past and present female Members of Parliament, alongside workshops for young people, and an exhibition in Parliament and online. You can see that exhibition here: www.parliament.uk
I'm not going to talk about those outputs in this blog post though. Instead this is a brief introduction to some of the other outputs involving project research that happened over the course of my year there - outputs I'm really excited about and that reached out to different audiences in different spaces. There's music, games, theatre, and sweets!
Thoughts, reflections, bits of research